Essential Questions to Ask at an Open House

 

This invaluable checklist will make sure you don’t miss any red flags or opportunities

If you’re in the market for a new home, there are a lot of things that you need to keep track of during your home searching journey. Purchasing a home is an endless checklist of questions that both you and your REALTOR® need the answers for so you can ensure you’ve done all your due diligence and are purchasing the right place for you. To make the process a little easier, here are eight essential questions that you and your agent should ask the listing agent at an open house before you can seriously consider buying.

1. When was the roof/hot water tank/plumbing/electrical/etc. last done?

This is an important question to ask, because it will help to give you a good idea of the current condition of the property or building. By keeping a mental record of the maintenance and upgrades that have already been completed, it will allow you to estimate any future or immediate expenses upon ownership. While the listing agent may not know all these answers off the top of their head, it is at least good to ask the agent to follow up with the seller to get the answers. This information may also be obtained from an inspection, the depreciation report, or the property disclosure statement.

2. (If a strata unit) Is there a depreciation report for the building?

If the property that you’re interested is a strata unit such as a condo or townhouse, then you should ask if a recent depreciation report is available to review. It’s important to ask the seller’s agent this question, especially if you need to obtain a mortgage, because you may have more pushback from the lender without one. Furthermore, the depreciation report will provide you with information given by a third party about the state of the building and whether or not the contingency reserve fund (CRF) can keep up with the maintenance and upgrades required over time. It will show a variety of funding models, and estimate when special levies will be necessary and how much will be required of each owner.

3. (If strata) Are there any special levies coming up?

A special levy is an amount of money that needs to be paid by the owners to cover the cost of an upgrade or repair in the building or complex, such as the roof. If there’s a $5,000 bill coming up at the end of the year, you’ll definitely want to know about it. If you know that a special levy has already been approved, then your agent may be able to negotiate that the seller pays for it upon completion.

4. Is there a property disclosure statement available?

A property disclosure statement (PDS) provides a history of the property based on the seller’s knowledge. While not to be fully relied on, the PDS will provide you with a basic background of the history of the property. On this document, the seller will have answered a variety of yes or no questions such as “has there been any history of a leak?” or “has there ever been an insect infestation issue?” to the best of their knowledge. It is a common subject on a real estate contract; however, it is not required for all sellers to complete a property disclosure statement. For example, if a seller has never lived in the property because it is tenanted, then they most likely won’t want to put themselves on the line when it comes to answering questions that they’re not 100% sure about. If there is a PDS available, it typically means that the sellers have lived in the property and are therefore confident in their answers and being held liable for them.

5. Have the sellers bought a home already?

If the sellers have bought a property and need to be out in a week then the dates will be really important to them. You’ll also want to ask this because you’ll want to know whether the sellers are motivated to move or if they’re just testing out the market. This question will allow you to understand where the sellers are at in their own real estate process, and also assist you during the negotiation process to make your offer as attractive as possible so that the seller accepts.

6. Do the sellers have fixed dates in mind?

Following on from #4, before you fall in love with a property, you’ll want to know whether or not it is possible for you to move in, based on your own time frame. For some sellers it is not always about the price, and if you can find out what the preferred dates are for the sellers, you may have an upper hand when it comes to offers. If you’re able to be flexible and accommodate those dates, there have been cases where a seller is willing to accept a lower price for more ideal dates. On the flip side, if your own dates are fixed and don’t work with the sellers’ dates, then you must be willing to make a higher bid to stand a chance of success.

7. Have you received any offers on the property?

If you’re checking out a property and ask this question, the listing agent is going to tell you one of the following: we already have an accepted offer pending subject removal; we’re taking offers on a specific day; we’ve received offers and rejected them; or we’ve received no offers yet. If they have an accepted offer, they’re continuing to show the property with hopes for a backup offer in the case that the current offers collapses. If it’s a new listing, they are likely collecting offers on a specific day at a specific time in the hope of getting multiples offers. You’ll want to know whether you’re competing against no offers or five offers, because it’s likely that your offer will vary based on how many you’re competing against. If the listing has been on the market for a while, you may be lucky enough to be the only offer. However, in this case it’s important to ask if they’ve received any offers in the past and whether or not they’ve rejected them and why.

8. How long has the property been on the market?

A follow-up question to # 7, you’ll want to know how long the property has been on the market, for a couple of reasons. One is because if it’s a new listing, you may want to prepare yourself for a multiple-offer scenario. Alternatively, if the property has been on the market for a long time then you may be able to negotiate the price to your advantage. However, if it’s been on the market for a long time and you’re in a hot market then you may want to ask yourself why that is. Is there a stigma on the house? Is the property overpriced? Proceed with caution.

Buying a home is a lot of work, and it requires a lot of time spent searching for the right property and performing due diligence. For most people, purchasing a home is the largest investment you will ever make. It’s important that you ask the above questions to ensure that you know how to make your offer appealing to a seller. Furthermore, these questions will also make sure that you know exactly what you’re purchasing and are aware of additional costs for things like necessary upgrades that may come up in the near future. 


 

Mariko Baerg
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The question of whether to buy a condo or a house may be obvious to some, but for others, it's not so simple. Each comes with its own pros and cons as far as convenience, amenities, resale value and space is concerned.

It's important to start by identifying your goals, lifestyle and budget. A REALTOR® can help you navigate the different options in your desired market, including the factors to consider when choosing between a condo or a house. Get started on REALTOR.ca by using the property type filter and compare all the options in your neighbourhood.

Condo types

There are two main types of condos on the market, freehold and leasehold. Freehold condos can be buildings divided into a number of units, row townhouses and even standalone townhouses or homes. Within freehold condos, there are standard condominiums, in which you buy your unit and have an interest in the property's common elements but do not own the land. In common elements condominiums, there are no units but you own the property and the land on which it sits. The owners within the common elements condominiums community share ownership of common elements, jointly funding their maintenance and repair. There are also leasehold condominium corporations, in which the land is not owned by the condominium corporation, but where lease purchasers buy a leasehold interest in units and common elements. 

Price

skyline of a cityPhoto by Liao Je Wei on Unsplash

Buying a standard condominium is a bit different than buying a house, as you're only purchasing a unit in a building, not a parcel of land. (This may not be the case for other kinds of condominiums). Generally speaking, a condo is more affordable than a house in the same area, however the gap is much wider in some markets than others, and may not be all that different if it's a common elements condominium, for example. In cities like Vancouver and Toronto, your willingness to sacrifice a more central location for a lower price will play a big role in whether you opt for a house or condo. 

Expenses

A bell boy at a hotel ringing the bell using white gloves

Condos come with monthly fees, which pay for services like security, maintenance and amenities. They're typically determined by the size of your unit and how many units are in the building. Some condos offer luxurious amenities, like a 24-hour concierge, pool, gym, sauna, big-screen theatres and in some cases, even a bowling alley. It's important to note, the more amenities offered, the higher your condo fees will likely be.

 an outdoor condo poolPhoto by Casey Schackow on Unsplash

Condo fees also generally cover the costs if anything breaks within the building (not inside your unit). For homeowners, no such luck. A leaky roof or window upgrades are a few of the big-ticket items you'll be responsible for yourself, especially in an older home.

Insurance is another expense that varies between a house and condo. Typically, insurance rates for a condo are much less than a house as the walls are insured by the building. Same goes for heating and electric bills, which are typically higher with houses.

Maintenance

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If you hate mowing the lawn, shovelling snow or emptying out eavestroughs, a condo may be just the ticket. Houses require a lot more work and physical maintenance, which means more time on the homeowner's part. 

Location and lifestyle

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Condos usually have central locations, giving owners easy commutes and accessibility to public transit, as well as proximity to shops and restaurants. For professionals, these urban conveniences may be more of a priority than an extra bedroom or backyard. And while houses outside of the downtown core are more affordable, you'll sacrifice location and other conveniences associated with condo living. To help discover locations matching your lifestyle, get started with REALTOR.ca Local Insights.

If you have kids or plan on having them soon, you want to carefully consider things like space, noise and privacy. While two people might be content in a condo, if their family grows, a house may have a lot more appeal. Even a two-or-three-bedroom condo will generally have less room for a burgeoning brood than a house.

Freedom

a woman reading a book on the front porch of a housePhoto by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash

Condo boards have rulesall owners or tenants are expected to follow. These can limit the number or size of pets allowed, prevent smoking in common areas or private balconies, restrict the use of visitors in common elements (such as a pool or gym), prohibit owners from renting out their units (like on Airbnb), prevent using personal BBQs on patios or dictate certain decorative elements, such as hanging Christmas lights or even the colour of your curtains.

Pros of a condo: 

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  • You won't be responsible for most repairs or maintenance outside of your unit.
  • You could have access to amenities like a gym, pool or 24-hour concierge.
  • They offer increased security.
  • They're often easier to rent in the short term.
  • They're more likely to be in a central or convenient location.

Cons of a condo: 

Photo by Joseph Albanese on Unsplash
  • You generally have less privacy.
  • There's limited outdoor space.
  • You will have to pay monthly maintenance fees (on top of mortgage payments and property tax).
  • You might have to pay for amenities you don't use.
  • You'll face possible restrictions on things like usage of common elements, parking, pets, renovations and decorations.

Pros of a house: 

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  • You typically have total freedom over how you decorate and renovate.
  • You have more control over your own space.
  • You'll likely have more outdoor space.

Cons of a house: 

a ladder in a room with a crack in the wallPhoto by Brina Blum on Unsplash
  • You are responsible for all maintenance.
  • You are responsible for all repairs.
  • Utility bills and insurance is usually higher than in a condo.
a decision-tree graphic on wheether you should buy a house or a condo
 

by Stefani Forster

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